Among religiously unaffiliated Americans, only three in ten are spiritual but not religious
WASHINGTON—A new survey explores the intersection of spirituality—measured by self-reported experiences of being connected to something larger than oneself—and religiosity—measured by frequency of religious attendance and the personal importance of religion. The study finds 29% of Americans are both spiritual and religious; 18% are spiritual but not religious; 22% are not spiritual but religious; and 31% are neither spiritual nor religious.
The national survey of 2,016 American adults, designed and conducted jointly by Florida State University and PRRI and funded by the John Templeton Foundation, provides an in-depth profile of Americans who are spiritual but not religious. The survey was conducted between February 28 and March 29, 2017.
“The survey finds less overlap between Americans who are spiritual but not religious and those who are religiously unaffiliated than is often assumed,” says PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones. “Notably, most Americans who are classified as spiritual but not religious still identify with a religious tradition, even if they are less likely to attend services or say religion is important in their lives.”
Among religiously unaffiliated Americans, only about three in ten (29%) can be categorized as spiritual but not religious. Two-thirds (65%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans are neither spiritual nor religious, compared to five percent who are not spiritual but religious and one percent who are both spiritual and religious.
Nonreligious Americans—including those who are spiritual but not religious—are significantly younger than religious Americans. A majority of Americans who are spiritual but not religious (56%) or who are neither spiritual nor religious (62%) are under the age of 50. Fewer Americans who are not spiritual but religious (50%) or who are both spiritual and religious (46%) are under the age of 50.
There are significant educational differences as well. Forty percent of spiritual but not religious Americans have a four-year college degree, including 17% with post-graduate education, well above other groups. A similar number (39%) of Americans who are spiritual and religious have a four-year college degree. Three in ten Americans (30%) who are neither spiritual nor religious have a four-year college degree. Only 24% of Americans who are not spiritual but religious are college graduates, and 53% have no college education at all.
Spiritual but not religious Americans are significantly more liberal (40%) than the general population (24%). Yet these Americans mostly avoid partisan labels, as 44% are politically independent. However, spiritual but not religious Americans are more than twice as likely to identify as Democrat than Republican (36% vs. 16%).
“Americans who are spiritual, regardless of how religious they are, demonstrate a greater proclivity to help others, said PRRI Research Director Dan Cox. “Americans who are more spiritual are more likely to listen to someone else’s problems, do a personal favor, or even allow a stranger cut in line.”
Thirty-six percent of spiritual Americans—a category that includes Americans who are spiritual but not religious and those who are both spiritual and religious—report having done a personal favor for a friend or coworker within the last week, compared to only 22% of nonspiritual Americans. Roughly four in ten (41%) spiritual Americans say they have allowed someone to cut ahead of them in line within the last week, compared to only 30% of nonspiritual Americans.
The survey also found that higher levels of spirituality are strongly correlated with higher life satisfaction. While more than six in ten (61%) spiritual but not religious Americans and seven in ten (70%) both spiritual and religious Americans report being very or completely satisfied with their life in general, about half of those who are not spiritual but religious (53%) or those who are neither spiritual nor religious (47%) say the same. The survey explored the relationship between spirituality, religiosity, and levels of satisfaction across a range of areas, including personal health, family life, relationships with friends, quality of life in the local community, and the country as a whole.
“Spiritual Americans are substantially more likely than those who are less spiritual to have inspirational experiences when engaging with various types of media,” says Arthur Raney, James E. Kirk Professor of Communication at Florida State University.
No activity is a greater source of inspiration for spiritually-oriented Americans than listening to music. Just over seven in ten (71%) spiritual Americans say they have been touched, moved, or inspired within the last week while listening to a song or piece of music. Only 43% of nonspiritual Americans report having this experience in the last week.
The full findings, topline questionnaire, complete methodology, and additional analysis can be found here: https://www.prri.org/research/religiosity-and-spirituality-in-america.
The survey was designed and conducted by PRRI in partnership with Florida State University and made possible by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Interviews were conducted as part of a follow-up survey among a random sample of 2,016 adults who were part of a 2016 study that interviewed 3,006 adults living in the United States, including all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Interviews were conducted both online using a self-administered design and by telephone using live interviewers. Interviewing was conducted in both Spanish and English between February 28 and March 29, 2017.
PRRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.